Migration and Exploitation in China

Some days it seems like the story of China’s political economy begins and ends with relentless mobility of its workforce. This BBC article describes the novelty and expansion of crime by Chinese youth:

“Crimes committed by youngsters have been causing a growing amount of severe social damage,” the China Daily quoted Liu Guiming, deputy secretary-general of the Chinese Society of Juvenile Delinquency Research, as saying.

Young offenders were forming gangs and committing crimes “without specific motives, often without forethought”, he said.

These included theft, assault and rape, but also 22 new categories of crime linked to fraud and the internet.

Part of the problem was the breakdown of families caused by migration, Mr Liu said.

In hundreds of thousands of rural families, children are left with elderly relatives or friends while their parents travel to cities in search of work.

Meanwhile, at the site of yet another coal mine explosion, the locals argue that a migrant worker is a disposable worker:

A woman from the nearby village of Hongguang, who would only give her surname as Qiao, said the mine tended to hire migrant workers from other provinces rather than local villagers.

“Occasionally, a few miners may die in an accident, and the owners will pay compensation. Because the families of the dead are from far away, they don’t protest a lot. If they were local people, they would make trouble for the mine,” she said.

Note that the migrant miners had been moved to an area with (I’m assuming) its own underemployed labor force. The decision to hire out-of-towners was probably not made for lack of able bodies.

A cowed, uprooted labor force of absent parents combined with a generation of only children both fatherless and motherless doesn’t sound like a recipe for social stability, no matter how hard-driving the meritocratic elite might be.